b'SEED HANDLING SINCE YOU ASKEDSortex Leaves a Lasting Impression BY: NIELS LOUWAARSARON DEMETER Head of Segment Grains & PulsesBhler Sortex ARE WE THE BAD GUYS IN THE BIODIVERSITY DEBATE?B iodiversity has been simmering on the societal and politicalrently contributing to diversity. An increasing body of scientific agenda for a while but came back with a blow in April. Thepublications based on genomic analysis show that the genetic Biodiversity Strategy under the EU-Commissions Greendiversity among varieties is increasing [ref 2]. These studies Deal starts with alarmist statements and is followed by tens ofmention two main drivers: a) breeding methods and b) market. billions of investments for the coming years. In the Netherlands,a) Marker assisted breeding has allowed breeders to use more badly needed house construction has come to a grinding haltdistant materials in breeding, thus introgressing a broader array due to limits to nitrogen deposition in nature areas affectingof diversity into elite germplasm. Perhaps also more efficient selec-biodiversity. tion methods in mutation breeding may have helped [ref 3]. As plant breeders for whom diversity is a necessity, we are theb) In vegetables, a claim is that market demands have broad-last ones to say that biodiversity is irrelevant. But our narrative onened the genetic diversity. That is most obvious in tomato, where the issue has been quite limited. That we contribute to genebanksa current diversity of shapes, tastes and colours have replaced and support projects in centres of crop diversity doesnt stick instandard types of tomato in the 1980s [ref 4].critical debates or in public discussions about our sector.Will this message convince society? Our experience is that the diversity of consumer traits in tomato does convince a lot of WHY ARE WE THE BAD GUYS? people of the importance of breeding. Whether it will also be per-The first challenge that we face is that of the three main systemsuasive in the biodiversity debate remains to be seen. Protected levels of biodiversity: landscape, species and genetic diversity,cultivation of tomatoes is not commonly part of the picture that the latter is the least sexy. Everybody sees landscapes changesociety has when speaking of biodiversity, and genetic diversity with urbanisation, construction of infrastructure and an increas- among wheat varieties is not very convincing for people who ing scale of agriculture. The decline of, especially cuddly, spe- have problems identifying wheat and barley. But in discussions cies like panda and koala helps to highlight the decline of specieswith politicians,it may help. The next logical question we can diversity. That even reduction of insect numbers, which areexpect is: what could you do more?. We have to see when diver-commonly perceived as nauseating, currently triggers politicalsity within a variety could be functional, and then how the uni-uproar, is indicative that public perception of this kind of biodi- formity requirements (for farmers, processors and consumers) versity is increasing. We, however, operate at the lowest systemcould be matched with diversity in the field. Could gene editing level, genetic diversity, which is much less visible. support the combination of diversity and uniformity?The second reason is that plant breeding has for long oper- Finally, we can also contribute at the species level. Plant ated at the wrong end of biodiversity. Breeding has initiallybreeding is essential to increase the number of crops in replaced many genetically diverse farmers varieties in EuropeEuropean farming systems. The political outcry for more diver-between 1850 and 1950, reducing diversity at the field level [refsity in agricultural landscapes, for more homegrown proteins 1]. Uniformity was both a logical outcome of increasingly effec- in the European Union, and for more catch crops, supporting tive selection, and as a breeding goal going hand in hand withsustainable land use, require breeders to make such species the mechanisation trends in farming during that same period. Atcompetitive in our farming systems. the global scale, the Green Revolution has replaced vast amountsWe have however some important requirement to formulate of diversity from the 1960s onwards. International cooperationgood messages: of course, we can only invest in breeding when in breeding, either by the international agricultural researchour breeders rights are effectively protected; we can contrib-centres, or by internationally operating companies, has spreadute quicker when the full toolbox of the breeder is available to single uniform varieties over large production areas, at leastall breeders, including gene editing and cis-genesis, and as a initially. That this loss of diversity in the field was recognisedbottom line message we need to say clearly that: only when we by breeders, and triggered the establishment of many gene- have access to diversity, we can contribute to more diversity! banks, does not prevent breeding to be a cause of the loss of crop genetic diversity. Niels Louwaars is the Managing Director at Plantum. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of all Plantum TRENDS REVERSE members.We can however confidently say that in Europe, breeding is cur-1.Louwaars, N.P., 2018. Plant Breeding and diversity a troubled relationship? Euphytica 214:114. https//doi.org/10.1007/s1068101821925.2.Le Buanec B, 2018, La diversit gntique en agriculture. In: ReignaultRoger C (Dir.): Ides reues en agriculture, parolela science. Acadmie dAgriculture de France. Presses des Mines editor, pp 169186.3.vdWouw: Van der Wouw MJ, Van Hintum TJL, Kik C, Van Treuren R, Visser L, 2010. Genetic diversity trends in twentieth century crop cultivars: a meta analysis. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 120(6): 124112524.Schouten HJ, Tikunov Y, Verkerke W, Finkers R, Bovy A, Bai Y, Visser RGF, 2019. Breeding has increased the diversity of cultivated tomato in The Netherlands. Frontiers in Plant Science v10.EUROPEAN-SEED.COMIEUROPEAN SEED I 33'